All of us have preconceived notions about people, many of which we may not even be aware of. But those biases affect how we make decisions, interact with others and behave in certain situations — often in ways that can be harmful or discriminatory. In a recent Equity Network webinar, called “Is Your Perspective Inclusive?,” AAUW’s chief administrative officer Sheila Amo discussed the topic of bias with Pamela Fuller, thought leader of Inclusion and bias at FranklinCovey, and Lisette Garcia, Ph.D., executive vice president and chief operating officer at the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility. Here is their advice on how to cultivate a more equitable and inclusive mindset:
Explore your own beliefs. The first step to addressing your biases is to acknowledge that you have them. “Our biases are simply our preferences in favor of, or against, a thing or a person or a place,” Fuller said. “We all have them; one of the automatic systems in our brain is categorization.” But the biases we hold about people can lead us to reach unfair and inaccurate conclusions that hinder inclusivity. Work to understand the assumptions you make about people who are different from you – and then consciously challenge those beliefs. You may be surprised by how wrong your initial impressions are. But not all biases are easy to identify; we also tend to have unconscious or implicit biases that affect how we behave towards other people. Implicit bias tests, such as this one on gender bias, can unearth some of those unconscious thoughts. Additionally, Project Implicit offers a series of helpful quizzes.
Look for value in differences. Most of us gravitate toward people with whom we have a lot in common, in terms of class, race, education, and so on. “We often look at others [with different backgrounds] and focus on how they are different from us, and we often see those differences as a deficit,” said Dr. Garcia. To develop a more inclusive perspective, shift your thinking to look at the ways in which differences can add value. Appreciating the perspective of people with different backgrounds and life experiences from yours “is an opportunity for learning and growing,” Dr. Garcia said. Numerous studies have found that, in the workplace, having a wide range of perspectives leads to greater innovation, cooperation and creativity — and ultimately a better bottom line for business.
Understand your own privilege. Be aware that not everyone has equal access to what they need to thrive and succeed, i.e. the opportunities, networks, resources and support systems. “The reality of our society [is] that different people have had experiences that advantage — or that limit — their possibilities,” said Dr. Garcia. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the privilege you might have as a result of your race, gender, socioeconomic status or other characteristics that others don’t share. Such self-awareness can help you better appreciate the challenges and disadvantages that others face, which ultimately can help you develop a more inclusive mindset.
Broaden your world. Proactively work to expand your horizons. Develop your cultural intelligence by reading, watching films, traveling, visiting new neighborhoods, towns and countries. Follow a broad range of people on social media to unobtrusively “hear” conversations about the issues that concern them. Seize opportunities to learn about other people and their backgrounds and lived experiences. “Embrace a respectful level of curiosity,” Fuller said. Finally, talk less, listen more. Being an active listener is an important way to let people know you’re engaged, that you value their ideas and their perspectives — and that you want them to feel valued, appreciated and included.
Lisette Garcia, Ph.D.
Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility